Can You Upgrade a Laptop GPU?

Can You Upgrade a Laptop GPU

If you’ve been using your laptop for any considerable length of time. You’ve likely come to a point where you start to wonder how you can beef up components for increased performance. Working with graphically intense applications like games, video editing or 3D graphics requires a powerful graphics card. Which leads to the question, “Can you upgrade a laptop GPU?” While anything is possible, in what follows we’ll go over some major points involved in this endeavor. In the end, you’ll be able to make the decision whether this project is worth tackling or not. So, if you’re ready, let’s just dive in.

Is It Possible to Upgrade your Stock GPU?

Many laptops on the market today come with an integrated GPU. This means that they’re, in fact, a part of the CPU itself.

These integrated graphics cards are designed for the simple rendering of images. These includes activities like playing light games, watching videos, and browsing the web.

This is the case with the majority of general-use laptops on the market. The GPU in these devices consume significantly low power compared to dedicated graphics cards in higher-end laptops.

Gaming laptops, for instance, are built with dedicated graphics cards rather than integrated ones. These are usually branded as Nvidia GeForce or AMD Radeon rather than the integrated “Intel HD Graphics.”

While these are dedicated laptop GPUs so they don’t share memory with other components within the system. They’re still quite difficult to upgrade since these graphics cards are sometimes soldered onto the motherboard. It requires quite advanced skills (and tools) to replace, let alone upgrade.

Laptops, in general, are designed to be as lightweight and portable as possible. So, they’re not meant to be fully upgradable. The only room for easy upgrades is usually in terms of RAM and storage systems.

So, while it’s theoretically possible that you can upgrade a dedicated GPU in a laptop. There’s a good reason why nobody does it, even experienced users.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Upgrading the Laptop GPU

Before considering this major step, there are some points worth keeping in mind. Let’s take a brief look at them:

DIY Skills for the Project

Regardless of the method you’re going to follow while upgrading the graphics card of your laptop. There’s a lot of skills and knowledge required to pull off such a task.

In fact, you’ll meet almost all methods and tutorials on the internet with a disclaimer at the beginning that’ll say something to the effect that you’ll be proceeding through these steps at your own risk.

Laptops are extremely complex and require a special set of tools to work on for disassembly and modification that you may not have readily available. So, it’s important to keep that in mind.

Additionally, tampering with the internal parts of a laptop will most likely void your warranty. Which means you might not be able to fix or restore your laptop if something goes wrong along the way.

Compatibility

In addition to having the skills, you also need to know how to choose the right parts for the project. Just like any computer system, many components will only work with specific hardware that’s compatible with the system’s architecture and design.

So even if you have a modern laptop GPU in your hand, it may not work on your outdated laptop if it’s not backward compatible with the system. The worst-case scenario of forcing non-compatible parts to work together results in irreversibly damaging your laptop or the new GPU.

CPU Bottlenecking

If you know your way around desktop computers, you know that a high-end GPU requires a matching CPU to be able to process the rendered images at a similar speed.

Using a fast GPU with a slow CPU will result in what is known as “bottlenecking”, which boils down to leaving a lot of performance potential on the table. This means that in most cases, you’ll need to also upgrade the laptop’s CPU along with the graphics card.

Price Efficiency

This takes us to the last point to keep in mind, which is price efficiency. As previously mentioned, like upgrading your Camaro’s 4-cylinder engine with a V8 motor. Upgrading the GPU isn’t as simple as hooking up your laptop with the latest graphics card.

If you’re going to configure a part of the hardware, you should keep in mind the following:

  • The cost of the upgraded GPU.
  • The cost of the tools needed for the process.
  • The time needed to learn how to do it safely (or the price of leaving the job to a professional).
  • The costs of any further but necessary modifications for compatibility with the new GPU.

In many cases, all these modifications might easily cost you a lot of money if you don’t already have the necessary skills and tools to do the job.

In fact, it’s more likely that a new or used laptop with a better GPU will end up costing you less in the long run.

Can You Use a Desktop GPU on a Laptop?

There’s a multitude of reasons why upgrading a laptop GPU may not be advantageous.

After all, something else to consider is that the rest of the laptop (CPU, motherboard, power supply, fans, etc) may not be built to support the kind of power and temperature that an upgraded GPU may need.

Which brings us to the question, “Can you hook up a modern, external desktop GPU to a capable laptop to enhance performance?”

Luckily, this is possible today using external GPUs, also known as “eGPU.” This one comes with a dedicated power supply to provide the GPU with the necessary power to run on a laptop. It also comes with its own PCI-E connection you can plug directly into a USB port on the laptop

If you’re into hardware and computer parts, you’ll easily figure out that this method is limited to the connected USB port’s capabilities, as it can’t surpass the power of a direct PCI-E cord.

Is Upgrading a Laptop GPU Worth It?

As you can see, upgrading an integrated GPU means changing up to 70 – 80% of the laptop’s internals. You’ll be replacing not only the GPU, but you also need a compatible CPU, motherboard, power adapter and other related hardware not here mentioned. Total up the costs of parts, tools, time, and skill needed for the process, and it’s easy to see that it’s much more cost-efficient to simply buy a new laptop and avoid the headache. As for external GPUs, the technology is still new, so it’s quite pricey also in terms of leaving 10 to 20% of the performance on the table, so the whole enterprise results in a low price to performance ratio.